The 12 Best Platform Games You Might Not Have Played
Platformers! How do they work? Overall-and-mustache-aficionados have been hopping and bopping for years, which is fine, but leave it to the indie developers to show the full spectrum of ways you can play with the genre. Why deal with mushrooms and angry turtles when you can have a harrowing emotional journey to save your species? Delve into a magic stump filled with puzzles and a bazooka? Mix fire and water to speed through stages and grab crystals? Flip reality on its head? In this installment of our 12 Best Games You Might Not Have Played series, we look at some of our favourite platformers we've played over the years. It's just the ticket to broaden your appreciation for a genre that's practically as old as time itself! (Prehistoric platformers were played with wooly mammoths, dinosaur eggs, and charcoal drawings. Fact.)
- The Fancy Pants Adventure - If we're going to talk about how unexpectedly awesome indie platformers can be, we sort of have to talk about Brad Borne's stellar platforming adventure Fancy Pants games. You are a person with very fancy pants. You're running, jumping, sliding, and flipping your way through a hand-drawn world. What makes it so great is how natural and responsive the movement feels, a sort of stick-man parkour meets Sonic the Hedgehog. You can fly up hills at top speed and zip down the other, flipping naturally as you leap and move through the air, and it gives the gameplay such a breezy, tangible feeling that makes the series stand out from the pack.
- Tri-achnid - Florian Himsl and Edmund McMillen combined their Wonder Twin Powers for this beautiful and compelling little action adventure game, where you play one of the last of a species of spider-like creatures. Your parents have been killed, and it's up to you to transport the egg sac carrying your siblings safely through levels. You move by clicking and dragging each of your three feet individually, and by balancing your head, trying to navigate dangerous terrain and enemies while keeping the eggs safe. It's a strange premise, but it's also strangely emotional, and the lovely visual style makes it all the more compelling. And... sort of bleak, but really, that's part of the charm!
- The Tall Stump - Team MAW won both first place and the audience award in our Fourth Casual Gameplay Design Competition with this gloriously silly platform adventure, and one play will make you realize why. An evil magician flies into your house and zaps your friend into... a block?... so naturally you head out to find a way to turn her back. Too bad for you the magician lives in (you guessed it) a tall stump fortress, filled with all manner of puzzles and danger. The game has a fantastic sense of style with its quirky design, and the bazooka you wind up with early on adds a layer of challenge since it blasts projectiles you can use to press switches. If you love your platformers with a sense of whimsy and humour, this one should be at the top of your list.
- Fireboy and Watergirl 4: The Crystal Temple - There are puzzle platformers. There are action platformers. And then there's Oslo Albet's beloved Fireboy and Watergirl games, which are both, and thus one hundred percent more challenging and addicting. You control both of the titular characters at once, one with [WASD] and the other with the [arrow] keys, and though you need to guide them both safely through the level to their respective door, you can't let either of them touch the other, or an element representing the other, and you have to make them work in tandem to solve puzzles that involve platforms and switches. It's an incredibly challenging formula, but also incredibly rewarding and creative, and it's easy to see why the series has become so incredibly popular.
- Armed With Wings 3 - Sun Studios makes some of the most gorgeous and exciting games around, and the Armed With Wings series is some of the most beautiful platforming action around. It blends fast-paced sword-play, an eagle companion you can direct to help accomplish directives, and absolutely stunning shadow visuals that elevate the game into a cinematic experience. The robust combat system fits perfectly alongside the story, which deals with a lone hero going up against extraordinary supernatural odds. Each installment improves on the last as gameplay and mechanics are tweaked, making for a series that truly feels like an epic journey.
- Shift - Antony Lavelle's Shift games look so simple at first glance. Get the key, get to the exit. The trick, however, is that you can shift your character from black to white and vice-versa, which inverts the entire level and its terrain around you. It makes stages that look straight-forward and simple anything but as you try to figure out a way to your objective, and the minimalistic presentation almost seems to mock you after a while. Why is this so hard for you? Look, the key is right over there. All you have to do is pick it up. Negative space was never so baffling. It's small wonder that it's turned into a series of games, each one more challenging and clever than the last.
- Enough Plumbers - Considering who most people think of when they think of platformers (its-a me!), we sort of have to talk about Glenn Forrester and Arthur Lee's clever little puzzle platformer. All you have to do is get our blue hero to the flag at the end of the level, but there's a twist... every time you touch a coin, you spawn another hero that moves in perfect tandem with the other, and you need to figure out how to work this to your advantage in order to overcome seemingly impossible hazards, often by sacrificing a few for the greater good. There are power-ups, of course, that grant you different abilities, and the whole thing is wrapped up in one pitch-perfect retro scheme that effortlessly recaptures the feel of playing something on a TV screen. You know, before they were flat. If you don't remember that, you're probably too young for me to have a conversation with, and now I need to go contemplate my own mortality again. Thanks a lot.
- Give Up, Robot - So you like your platformers a bit more hardcore? I feel you, I feel you. Then fire up Matt Thorson's insane psychedelic action game where you control a robot with a single wheel and a grappling hook traversing levels that require ridiculous speed and reflexes, all while being mocked by one of the world's most passive aggressive computer AIs. Part of the challenge for some players will be the game's funkadelic visual style which is... bright and mobile, to say the least. You'll need to be quick on the draw to avoid everything the game throws at you, which is a lot, from falling platforms, to fire, spikes, enemies, and on and on and on, all while the game itself quietly and smugly exults in your every death... of which there will be many. Fortunately, it never feels unfair, just demanding, and if you're looking for a true, unique test of your abilities, look no further.
- Great Dungeon in the Sky - If you really like unlockable characters, Rocket Ninja Games' retro roguelike platformer is crooning your name. The idea is that you're trying to vanquish four different dragons and a final boss in a massive dungeon filled to the brim with enemies who can and will kill you in a variety of different ways. The good news is that once you kill one, every enemy becomes a playable character, and each one has its own strengths and abilities, and if that doesn't impress you, you haven't yet grasped that there are over three hundred characters to unlock. Yeah. So if you're going for 100% completion, be prepared to have a lot of time to devote to this one, especially since you need to be incredibly quick on the draw to avoid being killed yourself.
- Hello Worlds! - Made by a group of University of Washington's computer science students, this unassuming little platformer has you playing as some strange little spider creature who just wants to get to the exit in each level. The twist is that each level is comprised of several screens, each with its own copy of your character that moves when you do, and an obstacle on one screen impacts all the others. This means that if the way is clear up top but there's a wall in the way on the bottom screen, you can't proceed, but it also means that platforms on one screen can allow the hero on the other to safely traverse a massive gap... even if it looks like they're walking on air! It's both simpler and yet more challenging than it sounds, especially once timing and reflexes enter into it, and you'll need excellent hand-eye coordination to get the best time and all the coins for each level to unlock the rest.
- Loved - We want to warn you that some of our readers have reported that the opening of this arsty and moody platformer by Alexander Ocias, especially those of you who identify as trans*, may be considered triggering. It's just one example of how this simple little game has sparked such a staggering amount of debate and discussion amoung readers, as you play a tiny creature whose every move is dictated (or forbidden) by a faceless, demanding voice, whose first action is to tell you you're wrong when you answer its question of whether you're a boy or a girl. As you play, the voice will tell you to do things, and whether you obey is up to you. It's short and not particularly difficult, but what's amazing is the awe-inspiring variety of different emotions and interpretations it's sparked in the community, from players who instinctively wanted to rebel and hated the voice, to those who felt comforted and challenged by it, and everything in between.
- K.O.L.M. - Antony Lavelle makes this list twice, but for two very different games. In this Metroidvania title, you control K.O.L.M., a tiny robot, who wakes up alone in a strange and dangerous factory. As he explores, he finds different upgrades that unlock new abilities for him to reach new areas. He's trying to find a way out, but Mother doesn't want him to go... even if she seems disappointed in everything about him. It's a moody, compelling little game with its story and atmosphere that lend a subtle air of menace and wrongness, and you can't help but root for sweet, scared, confused little K.O.L.M. as you search for upgrades and solve puzzles to help him out. Once you're done, be sure and play K.O.L.M. 2, which continues the story and ups the ante considerably.